The China-friendly Netizens Tour of China Review Part 2
Picture the scene: I'm back in Beijing after completing a rather challenging 5 day trip across north eastern China. I've been invited to the official opening ceremony of 'The Silk Road Rediscovery Tour of Beijing Culture' with my friends in the China-friendly Netizens Group. The ceremony is taking place outside, on a beautiful sunny day at the famed Yong Ding Gate Tower which was built during the Ming Dynasty about 500 years ago. This piece of beautifully crafted ancient architecture is a cultural symbol from a bygone age, and it has a very special significance to Chinese people because it is the starting point of the Central Axis of Beijing which ends at the Drum Tower and Bell Tower in the north.
The Central Axis of Beijing is a line which extends 7.8km from the Yongding Gate Tower, passing through the Zhengyang Gate, Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Jingshan Hill and beyond. On a clear day, from the top of Yong Ding Gate you can see many of the ancient buildings which lie along the Central Axis.
Here I was sitting in the bright sunshine at that special opening ceremony, listening to the well prepared speeches by CRI dignatories with my mind just beginning to wander at the magnitude of the event, when something caught my ear and made me pay attention!
It was announced that special awards were being presented to the members of the China-friendly Netizens Group, to thank us for all our diligent work in the media and online over the years. I have to say that I was quite surprised to get that little award, and very pleased too! I was even more pleased when I learned that for the rest of the day, we would be visiting many of the ancient buildings and gates that are located along Beijing's Central Axis.
After a brief tour of the Yong Ding Gate Tower guided by local historians, we made our way by coach to the ancient shopping area of Qianmen which has been completely renovated and rebuilt. It was there that we all piled into an old style tramcar for a nostalgic short trip down the street. Qianmen is almost like stepping back in time, as it boasts lots of shops built in old style Chinese architecture.
I'd often heard friends talking about the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall but I'd never got round to going there, so it was great to see that it was included on our itinery. It's not too far from Qianmen, and is an architectural gem for fans of street planning, maps and buildings. It was such an impressive exhibition hall that many of my friends in our group were hoping to visit it again before leaving Beijing.
After lunch, we headed to one of China's and the world's most famous tourist attractions, the Forbidden City also known as "Gugong" in Chinese. The Forbidden City is located at the center of the Central Axis, and was built by China's ancient emperors. It was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty between the years 1420 to 1912. It served as the home of emperors and their households as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government for almost 500 years. At one time in history GuGong boasted 999 rooms and gardens, though that number has lessened somewhat over time!
In fact it’s such a large place that you really need half the day or more to see it, alas we didn’t have enough time on our tour, so we followed the Central Axis right through the heart of Beijing. As you exit the back gate of the Forbidden City you will see a view which is sure to take your breath away, it’s the scene of 2 stunning ancient pavilions of Jingshan Park with Jingshan hill at the center. I've passed through that back gate many times and the sight of those pavilions always thrill me! Another thrill is the short trek to the top of Jingshan Hill which houses a small temple, to see the stunning views of the city and The Forbidden City.
The Central Axis ends at the Drum Tower and The Bell Tower, two ancient buildings which are still standing today, in fact they are both very popular attractions by locals and foreigners alike. To enter the Drum Tower you have to climb a very steep stairway with handrails on both sides, and I can tell you that you really need them! Built in 1272, The Drum Tower and The Bell Tower represent the symbols of the old city. They are actually made of wood and stones, and have been rebuilt twice after two major fires almost destroyed them. Getting out of the Drum Towerwas actually a little bit easier than climbing up those stairs.
Do you like riding a tricycle? Well， our group was treated to a tricycle cab tour of Beijing's hutongs which lead to the Back Lake also known as the Beijing Houhai Lake scenic area.
Although the Central Axis officially ends at The Drum & The Bell Towers, the line was extended north a few years ago to encompass the 2008 Olympic Park with its famous Olympic Games structures, which includes The Water Cube and the iconic Birds Nest which is also known as China's National Stadium. Before our tour concluded for the day, we were taken to Beijing's Olympic Park and invited to go up the Park's Observation Tower which is 258 meters in height, phew! I'm not so good with very high places but I decided to give it a go, and I managed to enjoy the experience though I didn’t try to walk across the thick glass flooring found in the viewing areas. Another surprise was in store for our group when we were asked if we would like to walk on the National stadiums roof, a popular activity among visitors to the Olympic Park. I decided that I'd like to face this unique challenge after the Tower, and I was lead through a cage like stairway to the top of the building, then onto the roof where I walked on a specially made metal pathway with handrails which lead to a square platform that looked directly into the stage area of the Birds Nest stadium. I have to say that it was a very exhilarating experience to be standing on the roof of one of the world’s most famous buildings!
What a busy and exciting day we all had on 'The Silk Road Rediscovery Tour of Beijing Culture'!
I hope you enjoyed reading my diary of events that happened to me and my friends in the China-friendly Netizens Group 2017.
You can get more information about 'The Silk Road Rediscovery Tour of Beijing Culture' inside this website, and also CRI Online.
Story by Duggy Day